Movie Review – Child’s Play

Wanna play? Killer doll Chucky meets Black Mirror technophobia in this gooey Child’s Play reboot full of murder and mirth.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

First seen on the silver screen back in 1988, Chucky has developed something of a cult following over time. A string of schlocky DTV sequels (with titles like Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky) twisted the original premise into something even stranger and sillier than it was to begin with, which explains why Warner Brothers was keen on taking it back to basics in this remake.

As someone who never cared for the originals, I can’t say I’m disappointed – and based on the gleeful silliness and wall-to-wall goriness of this film, I don’t imagine diehard fans will be either.

Director Lars Klevberg’s rebooted Child’s Play reimagines voodoo-cursed Cabbage Patch doll Chucky (this time voiced by Mark Hamill) as a malfunctioning app-enabled smart toy that can sync to all your gadgets around the home and wreak havoc via Wi-Fi. It’s an interesting refresh that makes a lot of sense nowadays. After all, what do we fear more than intelligent and adaptive technology gone awry?

The film opens in a similar fashion to the 1988 original. Karen Barclay (Aubery Plaza) is a single mum looking to start afresh with her lonely but well-behaved son Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Short on cash, Karen is able to score a second-hand Buddi doll for Andy’s birthday, which the preteen initially greets with trepidation, before the must-have gadget becomes a source of companionship.

However, it isn’t long before Andy’s Buddi doll – now named Chucky – starts to malfunction. A missing cat here, a creepy bedtime song there and Andy starts to suspect that something about Chucky ain’t quite right.

While Child’s Play is somewhat lacking in terms of its characters – the relationship between Karen and Andy isn’t as compelling as it could have been – this playful rework does enough to distance itself from what came before while retaining the core DNA.

Hamill delights in voicing the devilish doll, bringing the same madcap energy and gleeful evilness to the role as he did the Joker. The design is a little unnerving at first, but the twisted expressions only underline how deeply creepy this walking, talking, killing doll really is.

Coming in at a tidy 90 minutes and with a standout supporting performance from Bryan Tyree Henry, Child’s Play should scratch that itch for fans of the slasher genre. Packed full of gore and dark, dark humour, this film is a neat reintroduction to Chucky that doesn’t do away with what made the character such a cult horror icon in the first place.

Child’s Play is available in Australian cinemas from June 20 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

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Movie Review – Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary is back from the dead, and it’s a welcome if flawed resurrection.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two children Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo Lavoie) are enthusiastic about their move from Boston to a new home in the country, until their neighbour Jud (John Lithgow) alerts them of a graveyard for the local’s pets within their own backyard. When the family cat is tragically killed by a passing truck, Jud reveals to Louis that the cemetery holds mysterious powers and can be used to bring animals back by burying them at a certain place deep within. But something evil has taken over the cat in its resurrection, and Louis soon learns that the cemetery can bring more than just pets back to life.

In the midst of a resurgence of Stephen King adaptations and remakes, there’s been great (It, Gerald’s Game) and not-so great (Cell, The Dark Tower). Directing team Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s (Starry Eyes, Holidays) slick revamp of Pet Sematary falls somewhere in the middle of that scale – leaning to the more positive side for sure, but still at times a victim to the inherent silliness of its premise.

The good news is that Kölsch and Widmyer keep the suspense dial turned to high throughout a good chunk of the runtime, which works largely to Sematary’s benefit. A few cheap jump scares early on are thankfully traded for long periods of breath-holding, often climaxing in effective and sparingly-used bursts of gore. The acting is great, with Jason Clarke’s loving father and John Lithgow’s weird but well-intentioned old neighbour sharing a good bond. The standout, however, is young Jeté Laurence as the Creed daughter, who successfully carries and transitions her character as she’s forced to play it darker in the film’s second half.

The dark look of the film helps keep the sinister tone intact, even if the charm the original held with its cheesy 80’s practical effects is sacrificed. The actors playing it straight helps this too for the most part, but eventually the ridiculousness of certain scenes come at odds with their seriousness and things begin to unravel. As increasingly silly events ramp up in the third act, it’s hard not to laugh at how nonsensical it all is.

Still, it’s a fun ride that delivers in creepiness and continues the case that most of Stephen King’s work should make for viable entertainment for years to come.

Pet Sematary is available in Australian cinemas from April 4 

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Movie Review – Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai pulls no punches as it shows the sheer brutality of the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Director and co-writer Anthony Maras delivers a truly heart-pounding two hours with Hotel Mumbai. His directorial debut tells the true story of the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel, following the hotel staff and guests as they try to survive. People are killed quickly and mercilessly, and just as you think the film has hit a turning point for the better, the characters are blind-sided, slipping back into despair.

Maras creates some truly humane moments that tug at the heartstrings, with characters speaking on the phone to their loved ones, telling them that they are safe just to spare them the truth. He captures the chaos outside the hotel, where emergency crews try and fail to enter the building safely, and juxtaposes this with empty, bullet-ridden hallways where dead bodies lay strewn and danger lurks around every corner.

While Hotel Mumbai boasts a large and talented cast (including Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs and Australian actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey) its Dev Patel and Anupam Kher who completely steal the show as two staff members who decide to stay behind and protect the guests, rather than trying to escape and save themselves. Unlikely bonds are formed between the hotel staff and guests as they work together to survive and even the terrorists are given depth to help explain the motives behind their actions.

Overall, Hotel Mumbai is a master class in tension that puts you on the edge of your seat and doesn’t let you get comfortable for long.

Hotel Mumbai is available in Australian cinemas from March 14 

Images courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

Movie Review – Happy Death Day 2U

Time loop fatigue notwithstanding, Happy Death Day 2U manages once again to be a (mostly) killer outing.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Double down on your expectation of repetition in Happy Death Day 2U, Christopher Landon’s very speedily turned-around sequel to his silly but surprisingly enjoyable 2017 horror hit. Predictably, there’s much of the same in this direct follow-up to the Groundhog Day-like slasher, though this time around it feels more like a remix, with added sci-fi elements that steer this more in the direction of Back to the Future Part II.

After uncovering her murderer and escaping the time loop, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) believes she can now live peacefully with her new boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard). That is until Carter’s roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) finds himself trapped in a similar time loop and reveals to Tree that these events are a result of an experimental quantum reactor he has created for a science project. In an attempt to undo the déjà vu, the trio activate the reactor again – only to send Tree back to relive an alternate version of her birthday once again, this time with a different killer on the loose.

It’s admittedly a little tedious when we’re forced to relive some of the same bits yet again, but thankfully Landon isn’t afraid to get a bit weird and subvert the odd expectation or two.

First, is the slide in genre – mostly unheard of in a Blumhouse production. HDD2U is barely concerned with being a horror movie, retaining only a few small slasher segments. Instead, it amps the comedy into overdrive, which is a little hit and miss, but mostly amusing. It pushes itself a little too far toward slapstick, but thankfully it doesn’t run out of steam and keeps the nonsense fast-paced and entertaining.

Once again, it all works thanks to the charismatic and rubber-faced hottie Jessica Rothe, who embraces the lunacy of scream queendom and twisted humor brazenly. She gets the chance to flex some surprising levels of emotion too, thanks to a plot thread resurrecting Tree’s mother in this parallel universe. While the situation is a little difficult to get invested in amidst something so silly, Rothe at least proves herself a capable actress.

It’s a shame Landon didn’t go all out with the weirdness and complexities that time travel and parallel universes can bring to a story, but as it is HDD2U scrapes by as a fun little ride. It’s becoming apparent that the ‘day repeating itself’ formula is on its last legs though, so let’s hope the planned third instalment manages to reinvent itself.

Happy Death Day 2U is available in Australian cinemas from 14 February 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2019

Movie Review – The Girl In The Spider’s Web

Director of The Girl In the Spider’s Web Fede Alvarez doesn’t seem to understand the material he’s been tasked with adapting. His film diminishes a great female antihero into a set of familiar female tropes that should get women everywhere burning bras in protest.

⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Based on the fourth book in the Millennium series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web follows hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) after she is approached by computer scientist Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant). Balder needs her to help him get back access to a dangerous program that could result in an all-out war if it falls into the wrong hands. After Lisbeth gains control of the program for Balder, her house is ransacked by a criminal organisation known as the Spider Society and the program is stolen. Lisbeth must now track down the Spider Society and get the program back before they use it to cause chaos.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web comes seven years after David Fincher’s American adaption of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Too much time has passed for this new film to follow on from the first, but the gap isn’t long enough to be attracting a new audience, so the film sits in this awkward middle zone. It’s basically the film fans of the series never asked for.

Beyond the bizarre timing of the film’s release, director Fede Alvarez fails to understand the essence of the series and therefore the film lacks any of the grit of Fincher’s film, or even the Swedish trilogy of adaptations by Niels Arden Oplev and Daniel Alfredson. Alvarez comes from a strong horror background, with credits in films like Don’t Breathe, Evil Dead and the TV series From Dusk Till Dawn. At the very least you’d expect some cheap scare shots just to give the film a bit of life, but the film is ultimately bland and uneventful.

Claire Foy takes on the role of Lisbeth Salander, and while she starts off strong, she quickly reduces the complex character to an easily distracted, emotional wreck. Her look is also a little too tame and she isn’t as young and boyish as Lisbeth is meant to be. Both Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara, who played Lisbeth in the Swedish trilogy and Fincher’s version respectively, managed to nail the look and characterisation of Lisbeth. They also each had their own interpretation of the character, meaning the odds were stacked against Foy from the beginning.

Equally, Sverrir Gudnason, who plays another iconic character from the Millennium series, is a complete non-event. As journalist Mikael Blomkvist, he adds nothing to the story and isn’t old enough to capture the uncomfortable nature of Lisbeth and Mikael’s relationship. He’s patched into the story and then becomes dead weight when he’s captured by the bad guys and rendered useless.

The best part of this film is the underutilised Sylvia Hoeks who plays Camilla Salander, Lisbeth’s estranged sister, but even her dark portrayal of a woman who’s been abused her whole life doesn’t do enough to save this film.

What had the potential to break Foy out from the shackles of The Crown is let down by a weak script and complete misdirection of the characterisation of Lisbeth. An embarrassment to the Millennium series, I’d give this film a hard miss.

The Girl In The Spider’s Web is available in Australian cinemas from November 8

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Halloween (2018)

David Gordon Green’s powerful sequel to the beloved Halloween shakes things up and effectively erases decades of tainted mythology.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

There have been so many Halloween movies as to lose count. Sequels upon sequels. Spin-offs upon remakes. I have not seen them all, thank god, so I was relieved to discover this new Halloween movie doesn’t require me to. It’s a direct follow-up to the great 1978 original, which means we can forget about all the nonsense that has polluted the past 40 years. Rightfully so – this sequel is a whole lot of fun, right down to the scene of a little boy clipping his toenails.

Of course it’s not fun in any conventional sense. This is a movie where a gas station attendant gets his jaw smashed on a counter and a housewife is battered with a hammer. But the key to these Halloween movies is the way their characters draw attention away from the violence. Most slasher pictures glorify the bloodshed. They’re not so much about who is getting killed as about how much brain is being splattered. Halloween goes to great lengths to make its heroes and villains interesting, so that on some basic level, they are worth caring about.

I, for one, care a great deal for the killer Michael Myers (played in unison by Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney and Tony Moran) and the frantic heroine Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis). Myers is a monolithic creature of murder, yes, but why? He kills in cold blood, but one gets the feeling there’s a labyrinth of dread and intelligence beneath that pale mask. Perhaps the mystery of his mind is why he’s always accompanied by a psychiatrist who wrongly believes he is exempt from Michael’s blade.

Curtis, who originated the role in 1978 and returned in many of the forgettable sequels, is now a weathered grandma determined to see her tormentor perish. Her daughter and granddaughter are estranged, broken by years of paranoid delusions that Myers will return to finish them off. Her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), the poor girl, spent her childhood rigging booby traps and abusing mannequins as target practice. It’s a wonder she didn’t grow up to become G.I. Jane.

Naturally, Michael escapes, on Halloween night no less, and at first I thought it was all going to happen again. Michael kills. Laurie and the cops try in vain to stop him. Michael flees. Roll the credits. But then the movie shifts by turning the plot from violence to intimacy. It becomes a showdown. A showdown between two well-acquainted predators. It’s very intense and very well-made, utterly thrilling, clever, at times funny, and totally worthy of John Carpenter’s great masterpiece. Seldom is a sequel this fulfilling.

Halloween is available in Australian cinemas from October 25 

Image © Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – Apostle

The director of The Raid returns with Apostle, but it doesn’t quite hit the stylish heights he’s capable of.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

1905. Former missionary Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) receives word that his sister has been kidnapped by a secretive cult demanding ransom for her return. Under the guise of a believer in their Prophet Malcolm Howe (Michael Sheen), Thomas travels to the remote Welsh island upon which they dwell to rescue her. He enters the island prepared to fight but is not prepared for the great evil that both the people of the cult and the greater power they worship are capable of.

Netflix are certainly guilty of grabbing anything they can get their greedy paws on for their massively popular streaming service. This has resulted in some pretty sub-par originals, but every once in a while, there’s a name attached to their offerings that’s worth getting excited over. It happened with Alex Garland for Annihilation (which certainly delivered), and now Gareth Evans for Apostle.

Evans is the mastermind behind the excellent martial arts The Raid movies and the best segment of the V/H/S anthologies Safe Haven. It’s a little disappointing that his long-awaited follow-up Apostle can’t be experienced in theatres. Having said that, while Apostle is certainly good, it doesn’t quite live up to the high bar Evans has set for himself, so perhaps it’s forgivable that we can only access it from home.

Closest in tone to Safe Haven, which similarly explored a malevolent cult, Apostle also bears a lot of similarities to just about every cult-horror movie ever made, from the classics like The Wicker Man and The Children of the Corn to this gen’s Kill List and The Sacrament. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The ingredients may feel familiar, but Evans uses them to create his own recipe, one that matches his own style of building characters through ramping the events around them up to the blood pressure-bursting extreme.

Dan Stevens proves he’s well on the way to becoming a household name by carrying these distressing events on his charismatic shoulders. He dives headfirst into very unpleasant situations as the slow-burning tension gives way to a satisfying explosion of ultra-gore.

There’s a heap of ideas here that don’t land or end up unexplained and abandoned. At the very least, Apostle is huge on entertainment value and still bears the mark of a talented director. It’s a little upsetting to hear Evans’ planned Raid threequel was deserted in favour of this passion project, but for some hardcore thrills at home late on a Friday night, he’s got you covered.

Apostle is available on Netflix from October 12 

Image courtesy of Netflix Inc

Movie Review – Bad Times at the El Royale

Devilishly unpredictable and fiendishly fun, Bad Times at the El Royale – pleasingly – doesn’t live up to its title.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

In 1969, four strangers – a priest (Jeff Bridges), a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum cleaner salesman (Jon Hamm) and a mysterious young woman (Dakota Johnson) – check into the El Royale, a hotel that sits directly on the border of California and Nevada. But no one is really what they appear and everybody holds a secret. On this fateful night, a bag of stolen money, a charismatic cult leader (Chris Hemsworth), and the sinister voyeurism behind the scenes at the El Royale brings these strangers’ hidden motives and connections to a violent revelation.

Writer and director Drew Goddard’s twisty mystery Bad Times at the El Royale feels kind of like a mish-mash of two fairly recent films. The first is Goddard’s own The Cabin in the Woods. His latest shares its tongue in cheek genre-deconstructing and near-perverse god’s eye peering into his characters.

The other is Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, which very similarly gathered unfamiliar people with skeletons in their closets in one tight-knit location, only to ramp up the tension and let things explode in an unpredictable, bloody mess. It’s possible that Goddard saw this and thought “maybe I can do better” – if he hasn’t succeeded, he’s at least equalled in raw entertainment, thrills and intensity.

Squeezing together a delicious cast, Goddard keeps up the intrigue by not allowing us to know who is about to check out when, giving us that true ‘anyone can die at any moment’ sense that Game of Thrones made its name with. Needless to say, not everyone makes it through this wild night, but every actor manages to make an impression. The real delight is Broadway singer Cynthia Erivo in what will undoubtedly be her breakout role.

Bad Times is truly an experience that demands to be seen knowing as little as possible. Though it purposely leaves at least two of its key questions unanswered, the ride up until then is rollicking. Filled with moments of unbearable tension, laughs, and some genuine emotion – not to mention beautifully shot on 35mm film with Panavision lenses – Bad Times is, ironically, a seriously good time.

Bad Times at the El Royale is available in Australian cinemas from October 11 

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Nov 15 & Nov 24.

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox 

Movie Review – The Nun

Whatever you do, don’t stop praying… that the Conjuring universe is going to start having spin-offs that can live up to their ilk.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

1952, Romania. After a young nun takes her own life at a monastery, the Vatican dispatches a priest, Father Burke (Demián Bichir), and a young novitiate, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate. Guided by the monastery’s supply boy Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the pair soon find their stay in the foreboding castle take a turn for the life-threatening, as a supernatural presence reveals itself.

The mega-success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe structure has long since left the realm of superhero blockbusters. Now, every studio is taking a crack across varying genres. The first horror shared universe – The Conjuring Universe – has a high hit-to-miss rate. The latest spin-off spook straight out of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s museum of haunted objects is The Nun, which is a bit of a small-fry next to its creepier predecessors.

Putting front-and-centre the scary sister who plagued Lorraine in The Conjuring 2, The Nun places us on the earliest point in the Conjuring timeline, some twenty years before the events of the main series. Heavily marketed as the “darkest chapter”, it’s ironically the lightest in terms of narrative, scares and overall substance. The Catholic investigation set-up is promising enough, but once the holy duo settles in at the monastery, all story progression is dropped in favour of set piece after set piece, few of which actually manage to rattle the bones.

The titular Nun herself fails to live up to her previously established eeriness. While certainly unsettling as a dark figure floating ominously in a hallway, up-close she’s all CGI fangs and bug-eyes, a goofy choice that drains all sense of dread.

Mother inferiors aside, The Nun still has its merits. Slickly shot and atmospheric, there’s at least enough entertainment value here. The cast mostly succeeds too, in particular the spirited Taissa Farmiga, who is every bit as watchable as her older sister Vera in the main Conjuring films. It’ll be interesting to see if they pair the two up in a future instalment. Of course, if the Conjuring cinematic universe is to endure, let’s hope they start putting the same amount of effort into their side dishes as they do the main course.

The Nun is available in Australian cinemas from September 6

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Hereditary

Trauma-inducing, nerve pounding, soul shredding satanic fun for the whole family.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

When the reclusive grandmother of the Graham family passes away, strange things begin to happen to her descendants. Her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) attends support groups where she reveals the troubles her family has faced and her strained relationship with her son Peter (Alex Wolff). After a bid to get her introverted daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) socialising more with Peter ends in another horrific demise, Annie’s family deteriorates further. Much to the disdain of her sceptical husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), Annie attempts to communicate with her daughter through séances, and in the process unravels some dark and terrifying secrets about the Graham family ancestry.

It’s often interesting to reflect on the marketing campaigns behind independent horror films. Looking back at the trailers for first-time feature director Ari Aster’s Hereditary makes it seem like an event packed to the brim with moments designed to make viewers jump out of their seats – in other words, a mainstream horror crowd. In reality, there’s approximately one, maybe two jump scares total in Hereditary. Those more accustomed to independent horror will likely expect the slow burn and favour of disturbing imagery over things going bang, while a more casual viewer could be in for an unexpected shock. In that sense, perhaps the marketing team behind Hereditary are geniuses; deliberately misleading a larger crowd into seeing a film that will truly disturb and rattle them to the core.

Aster’s jaw-dropping debut is a difficult beast to define. In some senses, it feels like a patchwork threaded together from things we’ve already seen; there’s the haunted house sensibilities and ritualism of mainstays like The Conjuring and Insidious, and the oppressively patient atmosphere and satanic phenomenon of A24’s last horror hit, The Witch. But uniquely, Hereditary feels only half of a horror film; it builds immense tension doubling as a distressingly dysfunctional family drama.

At the film’s beating heart is the great Toni Collette, who goes against her quirky mum type from the likes of Little Miss Sunshine and United States of Tara. Here she’s one monster of a matriarch, making herself deeply sympathetic as she copes poorly with the agony of losing both her mother and daughter, while simultaneously revealing herself as terrifyingly unstable.

As is usually the case with films like these, it’s best entering Hereditary knowing as little as possible about what’s about to unfold. It’s yet another stunning debut from a director to watch, and another triumph from the ever-creative A24.

Hereditary is available in Australian cinemas from June 7 

Image courtesy of Studiocanal